Silent Hill: Downpour Doesn’t Need Pyramid Heads To Be Scary

Silent Hill: Downpour Doesn’t Need Pyramid Heads To Be Scary
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I liked what one of the developers of the next, creepy Silent Hill had to say about guns. His team’s new game will have guns, but not the way most games have guns.

“We’re treating the gun like the gun in The Road by Cormac McCarthy,” Brian Gomez, Silent Hill: Downpour‘s design director said, referring to the acclaimed novel about post-apocalyptic survival. “There is a gun, but there are only three bullets, so how are you going to use them?”

I believe Gomez wasn’t being literal. Downpour will have more than three bullets. But I know what he’s saying, and I like it.

Gomez and two other men on the creative team for the next Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game, this year’s Silent Hill: Downpour, showed me a slice of the game at E3 earlier this month. Like good game previewers, they said the right things while showing something promising. It’s a game that, series fans will probably be happy to hear, doesn’t operate with the rush of an action game. It’s a crawl in darkness.

This new Silent HIll, made by Konami and the young Czech studio Vatra Games, is bleak and spooky. Its lead character is Murphy Pendleton, a prisoner who crawls himself out of a crashed prison bus to find himself on the outskirts of the town of Silent Hill.

Gomez and his colleagues showed Pendleton using a flashlight to carefully explore the dark town, solve puzzles and, later fend off monstrous enemies. They said they wanted to make a game that felt like classic Silent Hill, but felt they could do it without filling the game with Pyramid Head, creepy nurses or other series hallmarks. Instead, they promise a new adventure but one that will be true to the rhythms of, say, a Silent Hill 2.

They want players to focus on exploration and survival, and they want to spare them some old Silent Hill frustrations. You shouldn’t expect to find doors that won’t open. See a door… enter it. You won’t have to waste time finding keys. See a lock… bash it open with a crow bar. You shouldn’t expect to be stymied by puzzles or combat, each of which can be tuned by the player to different difficulty levels. And you won’t have to worry about simplicity. If a player cranks the puzzle difficulty to high, Pendleton will stop muttering hints to possible puzzles.

I watched the developers make Pendleton skulk through shacks and a tram station. A mailman showed up out of nowhere, and he certainly seemed creepy. We got to a diner which was transformed in a flash into a nightmare version of the “real” world, a transformation to a different reality that the developers promise will seem more warped as the game progresses. Nightmare versions of the world will eventually seem as if they were designed by M.C. Escher, they teased.

And through it all, Pendleton will have to be a survivor. He won’t be a hero with a big arsenal of guns. He’ll be armed with what he can carry in his hands (thankfully he can latch his flashlight to his belt). His melee weapons will break. And his enemies will probably send him running, as was the case with a pair of “screamers” that tried to distract and then attack our hero. Pendleton can fight, but it’s going to be tough. When it rains, as it will often do thanks to the game’s randomised weather system, even more aggressive enemies will show up.

Most of the story of this game is a mystery for now. Part of the point of playing a Silent Hill is to figure out what is going on – and even who our protagonist is. That’s the case here too in what the developers say is physically the largest Silent Hill, in terms of indoor and outdoor spaces, yet. Size isn’t the chief quality that makes a game of this type good, of course. It’s writing and mood, pacing and the ability to instill fear in the player. The potential is there for a wonderfully unpleasant journey, a game where bullets won’t help much and where the joy will be in the bleak quest to survive a new visited to the demented Silent Hill.


  • It still irks me when the personal demon of James Sunderland became a mascot for Silent Hill and started appearing in other games/properties of which James was not a part of.

    • Why, because it’s appeared in a grand total of 2 out of 8 games and the movie so far? Sure, it’s become one of the more recognised elements of the mythos, but that’s inevitable for such a striking design.

      And if you want to get into the whole in-universe psychological debate, you’ll know that James didn’t think the thing up out of nowhere. He distorted the historical garb of the Silent Hill executioners, and if his psyche could be so profoundly affected by the image, so can other peoples’.

      Like you, I don’t want to see the thing debased to the point of irrelevance, but I think we’re a long way from that. There are plenty of iconic game enemies that are far more ganked than our familiar trapezoidal fiend.

        • Which I don’t. Sure, the Butcher was similar in general appearance and role, but it was tailored to the protagonist’s particular situation.

          I’m not saying developers should be trying to cram Pyramid Head into every conceivable iteration, but neither do I think that the decision to include it is necessarily bad or creatively bankrupt.

    • THANK YOU. So many people seemed to understand the metaphors in Silent Hill.

      Excuse the generalisation, but that was the problem of giving subtlety and motifs to an American developer; they dont understand them. So we had big titted nurses in Silent Hill 5 and the movies! They were a metaphor for James’ sexual repression . . .

      End rant.

      • Oh come on, if someone from a gaming message board can understand them, so can a large scale developer. People seem to forget the politics involved in developing a well known brand… like anything at its same scale there is always a stupid producer who wants certain things of the game, regardless of whether they fit or not.

  • This article is a little confused.

    The problem with the last few Silent Hills were that they just weren’t so scary anymore and I don’t mean scary :”AHHHHH! MONSTER” I mean scary :” What they hell are these humans thinking/doing” and “that was just effin disgusting, who could even THINK of that”.
    And also my favourite “This place makes me feel sick to the stomach, I feel very uncomfortable playing this game but I CAN’T STOP!”.

    That last 3 games(which I played all the way through and enjoyed) were still fun for me, they got a lot of guff from the press. Being a fan of Silent horror I’m more dissapointed with the direction Resident Evil has taken, less inspired by D-Grade horror flicks and more inspired by brainless action flicks.

    Back to my first comment, I don’t get much joy from a company claiming that guns will have less bullets when there never have been much bullets in ANY Silent Hill game. The last game that came out HAD NO BULLETS AT ALL, it disn’t even have melee.

    Homecoming was filled with references to the movie and other more famous parts from the other games, so I am glad to hear there will be no Pyramid Head this time. That said, Origins had The Butcher who was just Pyramid Head with a different hat sooooo…

    Looking forward to this game, can’t wait. Sad that Akira Yamaoka won’t be doing the soundtrack, but I’ll live(or will I?).

  • Having less bullets to me creates an interesting problem:

    Games have trouble communicating the intentions and qualities of its own gameplay, of course this is often affected by the personality and play style of the player.

    For a player like me, I often succumb to various ‘lessons learned’ and understandings of gaming idiosyncrasies. One that survival horror perpetuates is item rarity. You’re not really ‘surviving’ if you have limitless supplies of health and ammo, however due to these games (most games actually) playing to this mechanic I have developed a item hoarding sensibility.

    I often regress to the most limitless and basic mechanics to defeat every enemy, keeping my high powered items for the inevitable difficult boss battle (that probably doesn’t show up after all.) Not only does this make encounters slower, more boring,and even more dangerous encounters but it removes a part the integral gameplay experience.

    I know that some will say “thats the point!” or “thats your fault!” but the point i’m getting across is that the survival aspect of these games is often sole about running and resources over rather than quick wit and critical thinking.

    Give me a gun with lots of bullets, and find a way to make me scared regardless.

  • I’m also a hoarder of bullets. It’s due to playing games like Silent hill, Project Zero and Resident evil that has caused this. It can make the game harder.
    IMO Homecoming was the worst SH of them all. There was a huge focus on combat which was terrible. Melee was horrific and the game was all around frustrating.
    So far the only one that has come close to SH2 is Shattered memories. The inability to fight back was frustrating, terrifying and fun all at the same time. (it was frustrating because I didn’t know how to knock off the enemies)
    I just hope they don’t stuff this up. I was worried when I heard it looked more like Alan Wake 2 then Silent hill 8.

  • Bullet scarcity is something that I feel should be easily assumed to be a part of any survival horror game that has a usable firearm in it.

    Here’s hoping this game lives up to the first couple games of the series. I’d like to see Resident Evil try this, too. (holding back on the ‘action’ and returning to ‘roots’, so to speak… not ‘being like Silent Hill’ :-P)

  • Yes I understand that bullet scarcity is mainstay of survival horror gameplay, but I’m more interested in games that are scary not just because
    “OMG it’s coming to get me and I have no bullets!” I’d prefer to be afraid of my enemy because I DON’T know how to destroy it, but the game successfully manages to both instill the fear or the unknown, abstract, gruesome,or dangerous while at the same time communicating the same gameplay cues that action adventures use: “here this enemy attacks from afar and has little shields, use the gun!” “here this one is all close quarters, use melee” “This one is strong but is blinded by bright light!” etcetc.

    These encounters will remain challenging, but will encourage actual thinking with survival, when you say “survive” to me, it doesn’t mean “hold on to your rations, you don’t know when shit gets nasty” it means “shit is nasty fight to live!” (which may include running away)

    This is one of the reasons I enjoyed dead space and eternal darkness, and the suffering and shadowman. Sure many may argue that they are not survival horror, but they can get scary and I damn well had to use everything the game threw at me to survive.

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